House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer’s plan to tie repeal of an unpopular $75 annual fee on hybrid cars to a five-year, phased-in elimination of Idaho State Police funding from highway taxes was revived this afternoon and surprisingly passed out of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Just a day earlier, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said the bill was dead and wouldn’t get a hearing. “Things change, OK?” Collins said. “It’s that time of the session – negotiations and such. I was asked to give it a hearing, and so I did.”
Collins joined in the majority vote to pass the bill, HB 624, as did the panel’s three Democratic members. “I think it’s very unfortunate that this is how the bill has come forth,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise. But, he said, “I don’t support punishing people who buy new-model vehicles that have less emissions.”
Collins said, “It’s not the best alternative, but we are getting a lot of complaints on the hybrid fee. I’d rather have seen them separate, but if this is the way to do it….”
Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired longtime Idaho State Police trooper and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, argued strenuously against the bill, which he said would endanger public safety. No replacement source of funding was proposed for ISP. The highway fund provides $16.4 million a year to ISP, 21.6 percent of its budget. The bill would phase that out over five years, but Palmer said it wouldn’t start next year – it’d start the year after, so ISP would have time to request replacement funds.
“It’s much easier for the state police to go to JFAC and get money than it is for transportation,” Palmer told the committee.
The Senate already has rejected the ISP funding phaseout as a stand-alone bill this session. Wills said the change also conflicts with the Idaho Constitution’s specific provision that the highway fund be used for “traffic supervision,” and said ISP is the only one who does traffic supervision. “It’s one of their core functions,” he said. He provided the committee with an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion backing up that point.
Wills said after the vote, “I’m very disappointed that they didn’t see the constitutional issue.” Plus, he said he thinks the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, even if it does pass the House, making it nothing more than late-session maneuvering. “I think that’s a poor reason to put an agency in jeopardy,” he said.
Rep. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, moved to send the bill to the House’s amending order to strip out the ISP part, but his motion drew only a couple of votes in support. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, moved to kill the bill; his motion failed with just four votes in favor: His, and those of Reps. Neil Anderson, Robert Anderst and Clark Kauffman. Then, the original motion to approve the bill, from Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, passed on a voice vote. The Senate earlier passed legislation to simply repeal the hybrid fee, but Palmer refused to give that bill a hearing, instead pushing for the combo bill.